Essay on The Deities of Efik Tradition: Ndem Efik Ebrutu

Rachael Bassey
January 7, 2023

Efik history traces the origin of Ndem worship to their god’s basin (usan Abasi) which tradition says was a sacred companion of the Iboku people from their oriented home. All through their migrations and sojourn among known and unknown host communities, the Iboku people remained attached to their “usan Abasi” before which they presented requests of all nature. Waddell (1863) views it as a mimic of the “Ark of God” of the Hebrews. The attachment of the Iboku people to this basin was as fanatical as that to Ekpe. Being a deeply religious people the Efik resented attempts by various host communities to belittle the “usan Abasi” which they had known over centuries. Tradition maintains that the reason for migration of the Iboku people from both Arochukwu and Uruan to present day settlementswas religious and specifically revolved around their blunt refusal to worship their host deities namely: “Ibritam Inokon” (the long deity of the Aros) and “Atakpo Uruan” respectively.

A relic of the “Usan Abasi” found at Prince Essien Etim Offiong’s compound is described asan iron-container measuring eight feet wide, eight feet long and about two feet deep with the sacred “oboti” tree standing in its centre (Oku, 1989).

The Ndem Institution was before the expansion of Ekpe in the 1st quarter of the 15thcentury AD in Creek Town. It’s the highest institution among the Efik people. The Ndem institution served as a link between the Efik people and the supreme being “Abishai Ghibom” corrupted today as “Abasi Ibom” (God Omnipotent).

A number of clan deities come to mind when discussions on “Ndem Efik” are raised. Worthy of note among these include Anantigha and Anansa, male and female deities of the Ewang people. The Ewang, a deeply religious people, positioned their two deities at the two ends of the Calabar River frontage (Atakpa), Anansa at their spring head popularly called Ewang Spring (Idim-Ewang) where the Calabar Cement Company (CALCEMCO) was earlier situated and Anantigha Ewang at the thickets of Iyonde, now called Anantigha Beach (Esuk Anantigha) (Aye 2000, Ebieme 1988, Mettinion, 1892).

In the last 17th Century Obutong Clan was drafted into the Secrets of Anansa deity by reason of their many years of peaceful co-existence and innumerable inter-marriages. In the reign of Etinyin Andem Esemin Efiom Esewin Esu (Ndam Sindam) (Duke, 1890, Mettinon,1892) which negates the opinion by Akak (1982) that Anansa was first consulted by people ofObutong. Consequent upon the departure of the bulk of the Enwang people from Calabar in the second half of the 18th Century following Enwang-Nsidung conflict, Obutong became more and more in charge of Anansa’s worship and the deity came to be known by present day Efik as “Anansa Ikang Obutong”. Anansa is by far the most popular enduring and renowned deity of the Efik people.

Other deities worthy of note includes: Esierebom of Henshaw Town people, Afia Ntan of Mbiabo Ikoneto (Okon, 1989), Afia Obom of Abayen Ikoneto (Oku, 1989), Ekpenyong Ukim, Ekanem Ukim and Akpan Ekpenyong for Mbiabo Ikot Offiong (Akak, 1982), Ukon Esuk shared by Adiabo & Efut Ibonda people, Afia Anwan of Adiabor, Nkono Esit Edik for Creek Town and Atim Okpo-Ebot (Nkana, 1953). Aye (1967) includes Akpa Uyok as yet another deity of the Creek Town Iboku group but if Mbukpa Eyo’s ballad on Akpa Uyok is to be believed seeing that it narrates a story, we do not see how Akpa Uyok who once lived among the people could become a deity among the same people. Nkana (1953) in his awardwinning drama “Mutanda oyom Namondo” gives credence to Mbukpa Eyo’s narrative showing that Akpa Uyok really lived and wore clothes. As Efik people are known to worship what they know and understand, it becomes difficult to accept the notion that Akpa Uyok was and still perhaps still is a deity. The difficulty increases when it is considered that the name “Akpa Uyok” is never invoked in any deital worship of the Efik people except in reference to a person well advanced in age.


Akak E. O. Efiks of Old Calabar, Vol. III: Language, origin & Grammar,


Aye, E, U, Old Calabar through the centuries, 1967. The Efik People. 2000

Duke, M, A, Letter to King Basil Ebrero Nonax, dated June, 12, 1896

Ebieme Prince, E. E, Ewang of Yesterday and Today, Legit, 1988

Metron, E. E. Unpublished Family Document of Ekpenyong Eyo Mettinon (Ekpenyong Eyo-Uko) of Ewang, Eyo II House, Greek Town, dated January, 1st 1892.

Nkangha E. E. “Mutanda oyom Namondo” Rev.ed, Liverpool: Philip, son & nephew, 1953.

Waddell, Hope Masterson, Twenty-Nine Years in the west indies and central Africa: A review of missionary work and adventure, 1829 – 1858. First published in 1863, reprinted 2010. Cambridge University Press.

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